Hard Truths About World Power Plant Carbon Emissions

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Would you like to know how US power plants stack up to the rest of the world’s in terms of carbon emissions? I doubt that many Americans will enjoy the answer.

America's Dirtiest Power Plants (EnvironmentAmerica)A report released this morning by Environment America, the national federation of statewide advocacy groups working on clean air, clean water, and open spaces, compares carbon emissions from US power plants to world power plant carbon emissions (all sources, all countries). The report, “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants: Polluters on a Global Scale” (link pending) gives industry, elected officials, Peoples Climate March organizers, and United Nations representatives a pretty good idea why regulating CO2 pollution from power plants is critical to engage the climate crisis.

It reprises a similar study we reported on last fall. Note that neither report deals with the impacts of methane per se from fuel development and production.

US power plants are a major source of climate pollution, the report says, over 6% of the world total.

“In 2012, U.S. power plants produced more carbon pollution than the entire economies of Russia, India, Japan or any other nation besides China. The 50 dirtiest US power plants alone—representing less than 1% of those in America—produced as much pollution in 2012 as the nation of South Korea (currently the world’s seventh leading emitter of greenhouse gases).”

In fact, American power plant emissions on the whole are globally significant—“among the most significant sources of global warming pollution in the world.” In terms of all US CO2 emissions, our electric generating facilities produce close to half (40%).

US power plants and non-US equivalents (environmentamerica.org)

The main culprit EA fingers, of course, is coal. Coal-fired plants produce about three-quarters of the total (74%), but they do not even generate half of the nation’s electricity  (37%). (However, EA cautions that only a small handful of US coal plants produce this “massive and disproportionate” share of the world’s global warming pollution.)

The report’s second overall point is that to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, cutting US power plant pollution is essential. The experts throw their weight behind the belief that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, proposed in June, will cut carbon pollution on the necessary global scale. Recapping the federal goal: cut pollution from US power plants 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Take-homes from this study:

  • “The U.S. EPA should strengthen, finalize, and implement the Clean Power Plan” by 2015 for 2016 implementation, using both renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to achieve a 35-40% cut below 2005 emissions by 2020. This would amount to what the entire nation of Canada (the world’s eighth-largest CO2 emitter) produced in 2012.
  • “States should implement the Clean Power Plan in ways that maximize the potential for clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, rather than increasing reliance on natural gas or nuclear power.” The report then presents five means of doing so.
US electric power plant carbon shares by fuel type (environmentamerica).
US electric power plant carbon shares by sector and fuel type (environmentamerica)

There are also specific policy recommendations for Congress and the President. As well as the points mentioned above, the report presents tables that cover power plant carbon dioxide emissions as a share of total state-level emissions; the nation’s 100 most-polluting power plants in terms of CO2 emissions equivalent in passenger vehicles and primary fuel category; and the share of each state’s electricity-sector CO2 pollution contributed by the top 5 most-polluting power plants.

EA’s conclusion:

“When finalized, the Clean Power Plan [will] be the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut global warming pollution.”

Let’s hope so.

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6 thoughts on “Hard Truths About World Power Plant Carbon Emissions

  • I wonder if when the link is live the report includes CO2/MWhr. That should wish plants need to close first. So a CO2 tax per ton CO2, plus a bonus. Range plants by CO2/MWhr, if you are in dirties 40% you pay 1.25x on CO2 tax, dirties 20% 1.5x, dirties 10% 2x. Clean up act up of go away.

  • So the federal government should help fund the conversion of the dirtiest coal plants to natural gas. This can be done in a few years and would make a serious difference at a minimum cost.
    If not for Congress…

    • That or invest conversion dollars in renewables…wind, solar farms, etc. Colorado could clean up it’s energy mix by tapping readily available solar in their state, not to mention the abundance of untapped wind generation in the midwest.

    • Free market capitalism was already doing it before Obama came out with his plan, that’s why our CO2 output has been rolled back by decades and is only now increasing again.
      Meanwhile, reducing 6% of the worlds CO2 output by 30% means only a 2% world decrease. At the same time, the world is growing CO2 output by 3-4%/yr. In other words, what Obama hopes to accomplish in 16 years, the developing world will undo in less than one.
      The truth is, the US is already leading the world in reductions. The good news is we are rapidly deploying the technology that will make us irrelevant to CO2 output, the bad news is the fate of the planet is completely out of our hands. Both China and India still demand the right to use coal to catch up with the first world.

  • I think that they used unfair metric based on total CO2 production. Much more fair would be CO2/TWh.
    But “winner”, the Sherer plant in Georgia, is still something more valuable dead than alive. More paradox is that is uses coal from Wyoming.

  • Let’s Hope So? I dunno. Not while centrists and moderates like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein are there to keep the issue alive while not actually fixing the problem. Keep giving us your votes so we can go to Washington and work hard at being liked by the other side.

Comments are closed.